Cat Food Bandit
District 9’s middle act is a vicious revenge fantasy. After setting up Wikus (Sharlto Copley) as a friendly, rising corporate star utterly oblivious to his company’s alien-confining concentration camp, chapter two forces Wilkus to become one of those creatures. He’s experimented on, brutalized, tortured, and held against his will. District 9 does not expect sorrow, but cheers. Vengeance is human nature.
The failed policies leading to the Johannesburg shanty town, instituted after no one knew what to do with thousands of extraterrestrial beings trapped on Earth, reference African Apartheid. District 9 isn’t subtle in its real world connections. Rather than waste its sci-fi setting on an (unfortunately) typical racial parable, the cruelty elicits a surreal unreality – when aside from the aliens, it’s all reality.
District 9 shows how plausibly distorted human empathy can be
District 9 shows how plausibly distorted human empathy can be
It’s just as likely an allegory for Nazism, although the capitalist angle drives a vicious, callous inhumanity, bred into the employees through propaganda. Wikus’ first visit to the shantytown happens for evictions. Rising crime, a result of poverty, means the alien Prawn need to relocate; the new camp is equally cruel. Through Wikus, District 9 shows how plausibly distorted human empathy can be. He rips out cords supporting infant Prawn eggs, handing a piece to a co-worker and noting it’s, “A souvenir from your first abortion.” Then come the flamethrowers, Wikus cheerfully celebrating the popping sounds as the fetuses explode.
In modern vernacular, District 9 depicts a “shithole country,” a place to look down on because of its economic poverty, systemic racism, and pitiful, uncaring policy decisions. For its first 15-minutes, District 9 plays more like a war documentary, and its images are startlingly relevant. Prawn fight back. They murder people. Heads roll. In minimal time, District 9 builds an unflinching case as to why, and those militaristic humans – equivalent to mindless drones following programming – enjoy legally enacting punishment. They do not appear as heroes.
Inside the corporate vehicles (painted sterling white as to separate them from the rusty, dingy world around them), a message plays – a smile is cheaper than a bullet. No one heard that, or maybe they don’t want to.
The mission is to force Prawn to sign their eviction notices, this a species speaking in clicks, certainly illiterate. One “signs” the paper because it smacks the clipboard away, leaving a mark. It counts, says Wickus. Soon, he realizes how little platitudes matter, transforming into one of these creatures, taking their side, and leading to District 9’s hyper-violent, tonally improper final shoot-out. Wickus learned though. He understands after walking in their shoes, or in this case, growing their body parts. It shouldn’t take that to feel something.
Set under South African sun, District 9 utilizes the brilliant open sky to bolster contrast. HDR brings additional punch, glistening off Prawns or sweaty skin. Being a somewhat early digital production, black levels quickly clip, leaving shadows hardened and minus nuance. There’s no “fix” for that, and the production’s late ‘00s origins show on UHD.
Adding to that, the “documentary” footage adds noticeable sharpening lines and noise. That’s unchanged from previous presentations. Slightly softened upscaled 2K imagery offers enough detail to counter those scenes however. Texture maintains a stable high point, resolving detail, and impressively to their credit, doing no harm to the visual effects. Certain composites draw a little ire (especially where smoke/haze/fog is concerned), but again, this isn’t Sony’s transfer or encode failing. Jumping from Blu-ray to UHD brings better, if only slightly so, resolution.
Deep color helps, able to separate small Prawn skin hues and clothes. At times, they appear bright and attractive. Since District 9 favors a palette slightly warmed and mostly natural, those primaries offer a lot of pop. This disc makes them notable. Plus, the decrepit buildings, aerial shots, and cityscapes stand out via this increased vibrancy.
Stellar Atmos mixing gives District 9’s 4K release definitive value. Sensational low-end drops far, downright explosive when the mothership’s engines flare up. Before that, there’s still alien weaponry shooting concussive blasts, a mech stomping around, and the score reverberating. There’s no lack of LFE activity.
Height effects bring constant engagement, whether that’s helicopters circling, PA systems speaking, or mere ambiance when in vehicles. Broadening the 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray, voices stretch into each speaker, the directionality easily reference grade. Action spreads gunfire effortlessly, making use of those newly added rears to seamlessly bring further scope to an already fantastic mix.
On the UHD itself, there’s a new bonus detailing the Comic-Con premier. The rest is on the Blu-ray and when the menu loads, there’s a choice of selecting a human symbol or a prawn. The only difference is the menu design.
Director Neil Blomkamp offers a solo commentary, followed by a selection of 22 deleted scenes, many of which are worth watching (a rarity). Alien Agenda is the core making-of, a 34-minute piece split into three parts detailing the usual concepts such as the genesis of the idea and executing it.
Four featurettes follow with an average runtime of about 11-minutes. Make-up, dialogue improv, pre-visualization, and the CG work are all profiled in well-executed pieces. An interactive feature called Joburg from Above uses an interactive map to lay out various details of the city, mothership, and more. It’s fun and nicely designed, if needlessly cumbersome for the sake of the visuals.
Meant to draw attention to African Apartheid’s appalling history, District 9 also finds a voice for any instance of cruel human inequality.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 45 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: